Bookbinding materials

Hi, folks! I’m printing a letterpress book and incorporating some elements from a Glowforge. I know the general categories of good and bad materials to use, but I can’t seem to find any answers about two particular things.

Elmer’s glue: its formula is proprietary, but it’s got a polyvinyl acetate base. The craft bookbinder I’m working with uses Elmer’s and similar glues, but she could work with wheat paste, which is non-problematic. The glue is applied in a thin consistent layer, so the ultimate amount in any given point is relatively small whether cut or etched.

Carpet tape: My letterpress mentor suggests that I cut some of the wood type I’ll be printing with using carpet tape pre-applied or cut to exactly the same shape as the letters. However, I can’t find the ingredients of standard double-stick carpet tapes anywhere, and wonder if anyone knows of other characterized double-stick tape options?

Thanks very much!


I’m not sure about the glue, but for the carpet tape you should be able to find the safety data sheet either from the vendor or from the manufacturer.

For example, here’s a random double-sided carpet tape from Home Depot:

If you look on the bottom right in the “Info & Guides” section you’ll see a link to the SDS that will tell you about what’s in the material.


Incredibly helpful, thank you! I knew I was missing something. The one you linked to notes:

  • Paraffin Wax
  • Vinyl Acetate (Residual)
  • Fibrous Glass
  • Paper

Now, I know that the paper is fine, but I’m presuming “fibrous glass” and vinyl acetate are both no-nos? The vinyl acetate is 30-50% of the product’s weight; the fibrous glass, 5-10%?

As I look through other items, no SDS, just “specifications,” which doesn’t provide a list of items. Complicated.


Looking at the “Firefighting Measures” section of that SDS leads me to believe that it would be pretty scary to cut it in the laser. I’m not at all an expert, but I wouldn’t personally want to do it.

I found the SDS for Elmer’s Glue too, FWIW:’s-(safety-data-sheets)/se375c240f09ab62c65b9a767ff000017d4f3.pdf?sfvrsn=2

The hazardous combustion section of this one actually looks much less scary to me, but again I’m not an expert. I’m sure other folks can weigh in.

Good luck with your project, I’m a huge fan of letterpress printing!


Polyvinyl acetate (PVA) should not give you any trouble. As far as I have been able to find it does not produce anything very toxic when burned/lasered. It does not generate any (measurable amount of) Chlorine or HCL.

You might want to look into a great archival quality PVA glue called YES glue. A lot of bookbinders swear by it since it is designed not to outgas or damage paper over time.


Here is some adhesive I ordered for use with 2 ply acrylic. I’ll stick it to the back of the material before cutting. I don’t know if it is cost prohibitive for you, but it is acrylic and kraftpaper. The data sheet I searched out on the 3M site specifically excludes any polyvinyl, which is the most common laser incompatible component.


my amazon glowforge wishlist continues to expand.


This seems perfect for the letters! I bought a pack. I’m not using enough for it to add up, and this should be super spiffy. Thanks!


Glad to help. I haven’t used it yet, but it seems the adhesion should be good.

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Never knew such a thing existed; Thank you! I’ve been looking at random materials and many of them say nothing on the packaging about whats in them… suddenly I’m wishing everything came with a “Nutrition Guide” style label letting us know if it’s safe to laser or not.


The adhesion on that stuff is KILLER. Make sure you get it placed correctly the first time. You will not be unsticking it without total destruction of whatever you are trying to remove it from.

(I use it to stick PEI permanently to MIC6 aluminum plates for the 3D printer.)


Oh, gosh, that’s good to know. changes the complexion of things. Hmm. I may have to do a couple of steps: create the wood type and cut the adhesive, then cut a wood rectangle slightly larger than the wood type. I can then adhere the type to the block, and then adhere that rectangular block to the substrate. The wood type will then be permanently attached to its little rectangle, but the rectangle can use a more normal adhesive and be removed.


Or, you could just use the Proofgrade veneer which already has the super sticky 3M adhesive on the back, and cut both at the same time.

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is the veneer thick enough for creating letterpress materials?

edit: never mind, i misunderstood the first post.

Doesn’t that peel off entirely or can you peel off the non-adhesive layer separately and leave the adhesive behind?

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I’ll be raising it to type high (0.918 inches).

The 1/8-inch veneer provides enough relief from the background. This will be attached to 3/4-inch plywood. That gets you to 0.875", or 0.043 short. The adhesive will be a few thousands of an inch. Using chipboard and other materials under the base of the press brings it type high.


cheers, looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

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Hmmmm, not quite sure what you mean. The Proofgrade veneers, available in maple, cherry and walnut, come with a strong adhesive on the back. There is a nonstick backing on the adhesive, which you would peel off after laser cutting through all layers.

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I’m simply confused — I haven’t cut enough of it, apparently! Thank you! (I have some on hand I’ll have to check out.)

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The fibrous glass should be fine; fiberglass is another name for it. SDS says no hazardous combustion products.